Turkey shells Afrin, closes in on Syrian

Source:AFP Published: 2018/3/14 22:58:41

Turkey turned up the heat on Syria's Afrin Wednesday, launching deadly strikes on Damascus loyalists deployed around the Kurdish enclave and closing in on its main city.

The development, which could redraw the map of northern Syria, came as Russian-backed regime forces pounded shrinking rebel pockets in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

The violence in both enclaves came when the foreign ministers of Turkey and Russia, the two major foreign players in a conflict entering its eighth year on Thursday, met in Moscow.

A Turkish presidency source said Afrin's encirclement "will have been completed by the evening," retracting an earlier statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan predicting its fall on Wednesday.

Afrin city lies in the heart of a Kurdish-majority enclave in northern Syria which neighboring Turkey sees as a threat and against which it launched a deadly ground and air offensive on January 20.

Before the retraction, Erdogan had told supporters in Ankara Wednesday he hoped "Afrin will, God willing, have completely fallen by the evening."

A top official in the People's Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia, whose fighters are defending Afrin, laughed off the claim.

"It sounds like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is daydreaming when he says Afrin will fall tonight," Redur Khalil told AFP.

Turkish and allied forces have already almost completely encircled the city of Afrin, from which thousands of civilians started fleeing in recent days, when it became apparent Ankara's goal was nothing short of fully capturing the enclave.

On Wednesday, Turkish bombing raids killed 10 fighters loyal to the regime, which had last month sent pro-government forces after the Kurds asked for help.

"The air strikes targeted a checkpoint on the only road leading from Afrin to regime-controlled territory to the southeast," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

Posted in: MID-EAST

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